Army of Heaven
Patron of Faith
Paul is the tenacious saint of the early Church, to whom we look for guidance through the hardships of love’s journey and addiction’s slow yielding to health.
Initially Paul stood with the Jewish opposition to the Christ, a persecutor of the Church. He would be suddenly blinded, hearer of the Voice, became a witness and martyr, writing most of the New Testament, earning the title of the Church's first theologian, whose words we pour over centuries later, to receive the Spirit’s deepest truths and blessing. And he went through a bewildering array of trials only to emerge convinced the more of the one and only conqueror of the world, Jesus Christ.
Paul was also afflicted at the same time "as one born abnormally". 2 Corinthians 12: 7-9 gives us the clearest indication of this struggle. The revelation is his eventual contentment to be so, to boast in this weakness he knew too well, so that the power of God would dwell with him. Through this mysterious, unnamed difficulty (sound familiar..) Paul is lead to perfect dependence on God, to the realization of human littleness and divine grace, of the Father acting at the man of faith’s humble request. "Thou in toil art comfort sweet, pleasant coolness in the heat, solace in the midst of woe.”
In Magnificat's Praying with St. Paul, Father Vincent Nagle remembers a priest's words to students on retreat "…Imagine a man who has a weakness, we won’t speculate what it is. Each morning he arises with confidence in Jesus and his Mother, light-hearted in his hope not to fail that day. He does fail, repeating that mistake arising from his weakness. He goes home full of tears and repentance, praying to Jesus and his Mother for compassion, forgiveness, and healing. Again, he awakens the next morning full of gratitude, and the pattern repeats itself. And this goes on for years, perhaps for the rest of his life. [now asking the gathered] What do we call a man like that? Silence. The priest, speaking forcefully now, insisted: What do we call him? Again, silence. Finally he said, a saint. He is a man alive entirely through his recognition of and confidence in the presence of Jesus and the prayers of his Mother. These define his entire reason for living. They define who he is. This is the definition of a saint."
Fr Nagle concludes: "Saint Paul is humiliated by this weakness of his. But it only opens him more deeply to the truth of himself, which is the grace of Christ, his communion with the Father through the Son. And so too, our humiliations are not our defeat, but our own doorway to a new humanity in Christ."
In this commentary, we notice that the weak man is praised only for his beginning and end of the day attentions upon the Savior and the intercession of his perfect Mother, queen of intercessors, who are all of his hope. No acknowledgement is given to self-correction, gritty endurance or sheer determination.
The Trinity chose this afflicted man Paul to be a sort of primordial convert, the prototypical dependent, on the strength of God, a beneficiary of the workings of grace. If God chose Paul, who might sound a bit like an obsessive-compulsive or even an addict ("an angel of Satan to beat me"?), and made of him a saint, do we have any excuse for not climbing toward Heaven, with all hope in the grace of God? Just as well, here is a saint who will intercede for us in the very same deliverance! He is the intercessor of perseverance, the patron of faith par excellence!
Needed only then is faith - in God, hope - in God, unremitting prayer, and these outdone only by love - for God. If the recovering proceed in all things with tender love toward ourselves, toward our cross, toward our problem and all that life brings, trusting in God’s care, forgiveness, mercy and grace, how can the Father of Gentleness and Infinite Majesty not fulfill our unflagging desire?
Deep recovery can include overcoming fear of arduousness, fear of long-suffering, of effort, difficulty, self-sacrifice, true masculinity, and holy manhood, fear of responsibility and fear of humility. St. Paul seemingly went through everything, and his words are an inspiration for all "the abnormal", and show us the price of glory: the tireless desire for eternal divine beatitude, by grace.
The only actual obstacle is resentment. For it is a long trail, with discomforts and insults, temptations, tests of patience and faith. Our Father gives us ample opportunity to see the reason for more humility and the sufficiency of His grace.
But if resentment is cast out, there will be glory. All is from God for God and by God, Who carefully refines us in His fire, Who cajoles us into burning as a flame of self sacrifice in our families and towns, manfully supplanting addiction by practicing virtues toward creation, community, self.
This is the week of vigil for the coming of the promised Spirit, Who comes with seven gifts. "By the fourth gift, fortitude, the soul is strengthened against natural fear, and supported to the end in the performance of duty. Fortitude imparts to the will an impulse and energy which move it to undertake without hesitancy the most arduous tasks, to face dangers, to trample under foot human respect, and to endure without complaint the slow martyrdom of even lifelong tribulation." "He that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved."
Father, grant us the tenacity of St Paul, to never quit and to live in zeal for your kindness and inexhaustible providence – for your grace. Bless us with a spirit of increasing faith, hope and humility in our deliverance, that we will be your saints of perseverance, at the same time that we fulfill your divine plan for true and chaste manhood and our highest purpose in life. Amen.
Come, O Blessed Spirit of Fortitude, uphold my soul in time of trouble and adversity, sustain my efforts after holiness, strengthen my weakness, give me courage against all the assaults of my enemies, that I may never be overcome and separated from Thee, my God and greatest good. Amen.